On Monday, two major Canadian newspaper companies — PostMedia Network Canada Corp. and TorStar Corp. — announced their agreement to swap a total of 37 community newspapers and four commuter papers. In this process, they also shut down the papers in regions that had competing publications. The move resulted in many communities in Ontario losing their local newspapers entirely overnight. Yes, literally overnight. No last editions. Just done.
Shutting down the papers is a reaction to declining ad revenue in print media and federal rejections to requests for subsidies. It’s like we’ve been saying for a decade: print newspapers are dying. We’re not just losing the print versions of these papers though; they’re just gone. In the process, 291 journalists, photojournalists, editors and other employees lost their jobs.
This isn’t just a problem about job loss and nostalgia for the printed word though. It’s not just about us losing that roll of paper that comes to our door twice a week and gets read every once and a while. Journalism is important and so is local news.
Life happens on a local level
With news becoming increasingly centralized, local news isn’t covered by national outlets. You may be the most worldly person in Canada, but you still might be interested to know how your OHL team is doing or that archaeological remains were found at your local train station. You’re not going to see those stories on national CTV or CBC. And if you do, they certainly won’t be covered in the same detail. A journalist for a national publication won’t have time to do several local interviews that will only ever be read by one community. These are local news stories and need to be covered by local news outlets.
Local journalism is journalism too
One of the main functions of journalism is to keep a check on power — that’s mostly politicians and corporations. Journalists push back on their statements, ask for clarification and elaboration, keep track of what is said and then hold the powers that be accountable. That needs to happen at all levels.
In the age of Twitter, anyone can look up what local politicians are saying, but that means you’re only seeing the image they want you to see. Local journalists who pursue local politicians for answers about local issues are just as important to journalism as the press corps that gets to ask questions of world leaders. Sure, they’re not asking about the threat of nuclear war and trade agreements, but municipalities need to be kept in check too. The press is there to speak for the people and hold politicians to account when they lie or go back on promises. Who is doing that when there are no local papers in which to report it?
Journalists hone their skills there
Most of the award-winning journalists and reporters of the day started in local newspapers, TV and radio. CTV’s Lisa LaFlamme started at CTV’s Kitchener affiliate CKCO as a copy writer. Peter Mansbridge started on CBC’s CBWK-FM radio station in Thompson, Manitoba. Marilyn Denis began her career at a local radio station in Moscow, Idaho. Local news is where many journalists and reporters hone their skills, create contacts and garner recognition for their work. Without these local networks, stations and papers, where are the journalists of tomorrow gaining practical skills?
We’re that much closer to a monopoly
Here’s the scary part: getting rid of local news brings us one step closer to a news monopoly. “What’s wrong with a news monopoly?” you ask. Well, having just one source for news is like having a state media, especially if it leans right or left. It can give you selective facts, one-sided reports and state opinions in a way that makes them look like truth. Canada has legislation and regulations in place to prevent that from happening — because it’s undemocratic — but it’s definitely on our minds, especially with the current war on media being waged south of the border.
Interestingly, the Canadian Competition Bureau is going to review the swap between PostMedia and TorStar that initiated these local newspaper closures to ensure that it abides by those laws. The Bureau will have one year to challenge the transaction should they find it to substantially lessen competition in Canada.